BY TYLER FRANTZ
Despite winter’s chill bearing down heavily on much of the Commonwealth, the ever-present urge to “get out and after it” still burns inside many like the last fiery embers of a wood-burning stove on a cold, blustery evening.
Fortunately, there’s still time to hit the field in pursuit of elusive and cunning predators. By hunting furbearing animals in late winter, sportsmen can experience some intense, in-your-face action, while collecting winter furs in peak condition.
When a fresh dusting of snow blankets farmlands and woodlots, one need not journey far to discover the presence of red or even gray foxes in an area. The species, which was heavily targeted during the trapping boom of the 1970s and ’80s, has made a rebound in recent decades.
These highly adaptable and opportunistic canines, along with their larger cousins, the eastern coyote, are becoming more prolific across Pennsylvania. Their elusive nature, predatory instincts and excellent eyesight all make hunting them an exciting challenge.
Surprisingly though, only a fraction of outdoorsmen regularly take advantage of our state’s liberal fur-taking seasons. With little more than a remote controlled electronic caller and a light caliber rifle or shotgun, hunters can have a blast pursuing predators at a time of year when they are most susceptible to being lured in close.
For those new to fox or coyote hunting, the best chances for a shot occur at dawn, dusk or after dark, since canines tend to be most active at night. In selecting a hunting location, it is helpful to do some scouting in advance to find areas offering scavenging dogs an easy meal.
Fresh tracks in snowy terrain or piles of dog-like scat are giveaways to predators frequenting an area. Plus, the same trail cameras used to inventory surviving bucks post-deer season can double as scouting tools for the presence of fox and coyotes. Photographic proof is the best confirmation a hunter can find.
Many farmers are eager to have predators removed from their properties and willingly grant permission to responsible hunters who ask politely. Public lands also offer ample shot opportunities and should not be overlooked.
When setting up, it is important to wear quality camouflage and seek out secluded field corners, fence rows or open timber with good visibility and a concealing backdrop where one can blend in easily without being picked off by approaching eyes. Careful attention to scent control is equally important.
If possible, stash the call in a location likely to draw predators out into the open for a quality shot before they catch hunter movement and bust out of the area. A fancy motion decoy will help grab their attention, but a simple turkey feather attached to a stake with string will often do the trick just as well.
When running an electronic caller, it is important to ease into the call series, beginning softly at first and slowly increasing the volume as time goes on. And rabbit or bird distress calls are very effective this time of year because they appeal to hungry predators when meals may be scarce, but general canine barks or howls can be equally productive, since foxes are actively looking to breed. Alternate a few minutes of calling with a few minutes of rest, but if nothing shows up after 20-30 minutes, it is time to pick up and try out a new location.
Predator season affords sportsmen a chance to hone their skills and refine their marksmanship throughout the offseason, while bringing a whole different aspect of hunting to the table. Few other types of hunting can be legally done when darkness falls, and this unique feature of the sport alone can be especially alluring.
It also promotes an ecological benefit by keeping populations in check. It helps local farmers protect their free-range livestock, and it can even serve as a gateway toward earning private permission during other hunting seasons.
Pennsylvania’s fox season runs through Saturday, Feb. 22, and requires a valid fur-taker license. Coyotes may be taken year round with either a fur-taker or general hunting license. So for those not ready to call it quits for the year just yet, bundle up and give predator hunting a try.
Frantz is president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org